New research into Digital Friendships commissioned by the UK Safer Internet Centre, has been published to mark Safer Internet Day 2018. The research has revealed that young people are more likely to have a positive experience than a negative experience when online.
The study, which surveyed 2,000 8-17 year olds on their feelings and attitudes towards social media, revealed that despite the often-publicised negative effects of social media use, the internet plays a pivotal and positive role in how young people develop relationships and maintain their social lives in 2018.
- Two in five 8-17-year-olds say they have felt worried or anxious on the internet in the last week, with one in ten (11%) reporting they have often felt this
- 68% of young people said that chatting to their friends online cheers them up
- When a friend was feeling sad or upset, 88% of young people said they sent them a kind message
- Almost half (49%) of young people said that in the last year someone had been mean to them online, with 1 in 12 experiencing this all or most of the time
- In comparison, more than four in five young people (83%) have experienced people being kind to them online in the last year
Reporting on young people’s online experiences, the research shows that respondents have felt inspired (74%), excited (82%) or happy (89%) as a result of their internet use in the past week. In contrast, a smaller proportion reported to have felt sad (56%) or angry (52%) by what they came across online in the last seven days.
When things do go wrong, young people feel confident to reach out to their networks for support and guidance, with 60% saying they talk to friends when someone upsets them online. Slightly higher, 62% turn to their parents and carers for guidance.
Young people also feel passionately about their online community with almost four in five (78%) of those surveyed claiming to believe that every person on the internet has a responsibility to be respectful to others. Demonstrating empathy and support online, 88% said that when a friend was feeling sad or upset they had sent a kind message. More than half (54%) said they’d feel isolated if they couldn’t talk to their friends via technology.
However, many young people also face bullying, exclusion and a range of pressures to maintain their friendships and popularity. Almost half (47%) of respondents said that people had excluded them online in the last year, with 60% thinking it is important for friends to include them in group chats. Almost three-quarters (73%), say it’s important for their friends to reply to their messages as soon as they’ve seen them. Still, many young people are rejecting these pressures with 35% saying that they do not feel they must use social media to be popular or liked.
With reforms to Relationships and Sex Education on the horizon, it’s positive to see the majority (72%) of young people wanted their school to teach them about cyberbullying and how to manage friendships online. However, one in ten of those surveyed say that they have not been taught this in school.
This research comes as Safer Internet Day 2018 was being celebrated globally on Tuesday 6th February 2018 with the slogan “Create, Connect and Share Respect: A better internet starts with you”. The UK Safer Internet Centre – comprised of Childnet, Internet Watch Foundation and South West Grid for Learning – believe that the key to continuing the positive use of the internet is to empower young people with the skills they need to navigate the online world in a safe and respectful way, and to ensure schools, parents and carers and other members of the children’s workforce have the tools to support young people to do so.
Will Gardner, a Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre and CEO of Childnet, says:
It’s clear that technology is having an impact on how young people develop relationships, interact with each other and express themselves. Today’s findings are encouraging, highlighting that the majority of young people’s experiences of the internet are positive in this regard. However we also see that there is a negative side, including where young people face pressures in their online friendships.
Safer Internet Day gives us the unique opportunity to collectively promote respect and empathy online, inspire young people to harness their enthusiasm and creativity, and support them to build positive online experiences for everyone. It is inspirational to see so many different organisations and individuals come together today to build a better internet. We want to make sure that every young person feels equipped and empowered to make positive decisions when interacting online – be it on gaming sites, messaging apps or social sharing platforms.
Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries says:
As today’s figures show, the Internet can and does have a positive effect on young people’s lives but we must all recognise the dangers that can be found online. Only by working together can government, industry, parents, schools and communities harness the power of the internet for good and reduce its risks. It is fantastic to see this ambition reflected on Safer Internet Day with hundreds of organisations coming together across the UK to raise awareness and empower young people.